Short Story #11: The Lady with the Toy Dog by Anthon Chekhov

Title: The Lady with the Toy Dog

Author: Anthon Chekhov

Short Story #11 out of 365

Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)

Date Read1/4/2014
SourceThe World's Greatest Short Stories, Dover Thrift Edition, edited by James Daley.  The story can also be on this website.

Book cover: Worlds Greatest Short Stories - Dover Thrift Ed


Dimitri is visiting in Yalta when he stumbles upon a young woman with a toy dog.  He is a womanizer who blames his faults on women and in particular, his wife.  After brief reconaissance on the woman, he seizes the opportunity to talk with her an d befriend her.  Quickly, he romances her into bed and no sooner, she breaks down believe that he will not respect her and that she has lost her self-respect.  The two enjoy the trist until they both must depart.  However, when Dimitri returns home, he soon finds himself obsessing about this woman and desiring to be with her again.  He also laments about how he cannot share the feelings and experiences he has had with the woman with no one.  He eventually tracts down where she lives and finds a mean of encountering her without her husband finding out.  She promises him that she will come visit him in Moscow.  She begins to make trips to Moscow and the two continue their affair in private.  Over time, they realize their love for one another but seem at an impasse as to what to do about it.  The story ends with them contemplating the course of action needed for them to be together.  


The ending on this is ambiguous   In one light, it seems like the final decision has been made in which they will both divorce their respective partners and come together.  The final paragraph seems to suggest this by explaining that "it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning."  As the story's ending, it feels noble but a bit soulless for me.  

I find the most fascinating paragraph tucked in right near the beginning of Part 4, where Dimitri reflects upon the following realization:

"He had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people; and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth -- such, for instance, as his work in the bank, his discussions at the club, his "lower race," his presence with his wife at anniversary festivities -- all that was open. And he judged of others by himself, not believing in what he saw, and always believing that every man had his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy and under the cover of night. All personal life rested on secrecy, and possibly it was partly on that account that civilised man was so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected. "

The idea that "All personal life rested on secrecy" is still something that is deeply ingrained in American culture as well and I see interesting issues that have arisen as a result of social media and the increasing public nature of personal life.  Of course, it also raises questions and thoughts about our public lives being lies or falsehoods too.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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